Two Russian intelligence vessels have been stalking US and NATO vessels operating in a major exercise in the Baltic Sea this month.
US Navy Vice Admiral James G. Foggo III -the commander of the exercise- says the ships have been following them since their departure on June 5th, according to Fox News.
“What we have seen is shadowing by two Russian intelligence vessels since we left port in Tallinn, Estonia”, Foggo said.
While Foggo said the Russian ships have been “well behaved”, they have refused to communicate with the US Navy and NATO vessels they are tailing, often coming within a mile of each other.
Foggo is the commander of the US Navy’s 6th fleet, which assumes responsibility for the waters around all of Europe. Foggo is currently stationed aboard the command ship USS Mount Whitney, which is underway near Poland.
While the Russians traditionally keep an eye on NATO exercises, BALTOPS ‘16 -the 44th exercise of its kind- is particularly tense as NATO has announced their plans to deploy troops in Eastern Europe as a deterrent to Russian Aggression, something Russia sees as a treaty violation between the East and West.
While Foggo says the Russian presence bears less intensity than last year, he expressed his concern about Russia announcing they would conduct their own exercise without sharing any details- a stark contrast to the general openness of NATO exercises.
“We didn’t want any surprises. We actually put our schedule for the exercise on the web,” according to Foggo.
With a bad habit of conducting “snap exercises” that happen without warning and can occasionally turn into invasions (such as in the 2014 exercises in the Ukraine, as well as the annexation of Crimea), Russia is known for its aggressive behavior- as evidenced by the reckless flyby of Russian planes over the USS Donald Cook.
“I don’t think they want to be seen that way,” said Foggo, referring to the backlash Russia faced after the Donald Cook incident. “That might have caused the change in their behavior.”
Foggo says that while Russian aircraft -the same model of Su-24 that buzzed the Donald Cook in April- did fly over, they were performing in a “safe and professional” manner.
“They stayed at altitude and conducted a standard reconnaissance of an at sea flotilla,” Foggo noted. “I personally think the Russians have changed their calculus.”
As Russia ups the number of submarines and forces in the region, Foggo says that there is concern about the growth of Russian military threats in the region.
“We need to remain vigilant,” Foggo said.
According to Foggo, BALTOPS is a two-week annual exercise where 17 NATO nations practice all the major warfare skills. This year, the group is focusing on amphibious operations and anti-submarine warfare.
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